TSA Begins Exploring Airport Checkpoint Of The Future

By Calvin Biesecker

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) last week issued a Request for Information (RFI) for a planned future architecture for passenger screening at the nation's airports involving processes and technologies.

"The TSA may in the future issue one or more solicitations to procure and integrated system of applications, equipment, and supporting products to address this operational requirement," the agency says in a FedBizOpps posting.

The RFI includes a graphic illustration depicting the various components that might be used to enhance passenger screening, including risk management software and algorithms, databases, communications and surveillance assets TSA Operations Center.

"The future passenger screening system architecture will focus on the identification of high risk individuals, expansion of detection techniques to the full range of threats, enabling of enterprise wide information sharing, enhanced capabilities for responding to and preparing for events, the ability to adapt in real time to changes in the threat environment, fusion and correlation of multiple data sources, enhanced automation tools and techniques, pre- screening through intelligence analytics and data mining, improvements in operational performance and system efficiency and adaptability all while simultaneously facilitating enhancements in the overall passenger travel experience and maintaining the rights and privacy of individuals within public law," TSA says in a description accompanying the graphic.

The RFI is just one component of what TSA will be doing to explore the checkpoint of the future, a TSA spokeswoman told Defense Daily last week.

The desire for improved screening comes as the flow of passengers is increasing through the nation's airports while their patience and tolerance for service interruptions is decreasing, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said last week at an aviation industry forum sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The question is how to handle more people faster and with better security, he said.

The strategy to break up congestion at the checkpoint includes early risk assessment by analyzing behavior, Hawley said. TSA is increasing the opportunities for its security officers to have training in observing risky people, he said.

Ultimately, TSA is looking for a "network-centric enterprise of integrated standards-based technologies and enterprise services" with information flowing to authorized users in real time to achieve a common operational picture to help it advance passenger screening, the FedBizOpps notice says. "A key aspect of the enhanced security envisioned for this future system is the ability to continuously ensure positive identification of every passenger as they traverse the aviation system, from the time a reservation is made, to the time they exit an airport at their destination. In addition, checked and carry-on baggage must be continuously associated with those passengers and tracked as it moves through the various stages of the travel process."

The new RFI is titled, "TSA Credential Verification Identity Management and Tracking of Passengers Carry on and Checked Bags," and seeks responses on the following area among others: documentation scanners; biometrics; smart cards; integrated portals and kiosks; tracking technologies such as radio frequency identification and video surveillance; processes and operational concepts for credentialing and positive passenger identification; integration with other security systems and technologies; user interface and system interaction; data exchange methods, standards and protocols; system management and control, network bandwidth utilization; and system performance, reliability, scalability, standards and flexibility/openness.

Hawley also said that TSA would soon be rolling out active millimeter wave imaging technology to be pilot tested at airports for screening passengers for explosives and weapons. The active millimeter wave technology is non- ionizing and doesn't present the potential privacy issues associated with backscatter X-Ray technology currently being tested by TSA at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, the TSA spokeswoman said.

Backscatter technology allows screeners to see underneath people's clothing without having to perform a pat down or strip search. However, before the TSA would pilot test the technology it required software algorithms to minimize privacy concerns.

The millimeter wave testing will let TSA better understand how the technology works, what will be the impact on travelers and what travelers have to say, the TSA spokeswoman said. What airport will be used for the test and whose technology will be used isn't finalized yet, she added. The technology will require an individual to stand in front of some type of imaging system to be scanned.